Last week I made a terrible (but well reasoned) prediction of “Clips in six” that was influenced by the ghost of the Spurs’ past four title-less years that has been haunting me. (Should have gone Clips in seven, much safer.) The reality is that this team is substantially different from the one described by that ghost. This has led me to promise the Spurs that I will not pick them to lose another series in this year’s NBA playoffs.
A side note about the Spurs-Clippers series before I start
The Spurs are freaking amazing. They haven’t lost since April 11th; they’re on an 18-game win streak two rounds deep into the playoffs. This isn’t normal. They are, by the very definition of the phrase, “clicking on all cylinders.” They way the Spurs and Clippers each operated in that series, it was like they both knew there was absolutely no way the Spurs were going to lose the series; no matter how hard the Clippers tried they truly could not have won that series. A healthy Clippers squad still makes it Spurs in 6, maybe.
In Game 3 I don’t even think the Spurs expected to be in a position to complete the comeback in the second half, but there they were only down 10 at halftime. Their mentality was something like “Hey, we’re only down ten. Let’s go ahead and win it.”
Game 4 was a really good game. Both teams were basically cruising until the Clippers made a genuine run to win it in the fourth quarter. Then both teams
actually started to act like they were fighting for a win.
The Clippers will be back. They have a lot of talent and they simply need some time together to build familiarity and
chemistry. Vinny Del Negro will get fired. I’m standing by my statement that Chris Paul will win championships: plural.
In fact, I got the sense, watching him not being able to capitalize on those two last minute drives to the basket and then walk off the court, that he instantly shifted his focus to next year. This Clippers team is going to come back much hungrier and much stronger next year.
The bad news for the Clippers is that the Spurs look like a new team from recent year’s past and they may even, somehow, in one of the most age and era defying ways, improve next year.
The gist of that terrible prediction I made was an imminent doubt in the Spurs. It was also the belief that Chris Paul was going to make magic happen, but that’s beside the point. This doubt was created by the ghost of the Spurs’ recent past, which can be summed up in a simple question: If I’m supposed to believe this Spurs team is a legitimate title contender then what the heck has this team done since their title in 2007 except get older?
Yes, yes, I made several other points in that article but at the heart of my doubt in the Spurs laid this seemingly unanswerable question.
They didn’t defend their 2007 title but they gave it a good effort, falling short to the runner-up Lakers in the 2009 playoffs. The next year, however, they lost in the first round in five games, followed by getting swept in the second round in 2010 and another first round oust last year.
Last year is what really got me. I couldn’t make myself believe his same Spurs team that became the fourth one seed in NBA history to be eliminated in the first round… (hold on: Yes, I know they were a little banged up. Coach Pop didn’t ask surprised when they lost in six to the Griz. Yes, they’ve made some acquisitions so they’re not exactly the same team)… I’m back. I couldn’t make myself believe that this same Spurs team that lost in the first round last year could be a legitimate title contender. So what they dominated in the regular season? So what they were supposedly feeling better than ever, Popovich had figured out the magical recipe to rest your guys down the stretch and Tim Duncan was playing his best ball in five years? You guys lost in the first round last year with the same team. What could ever make me believe you guys could contend with the Thunder or Lakers let alone the Heat or Bulls in the Finals? (Before D-Rose tore his ACL, *tears up*)
But, something is different. This Spurs team has already in just eight games won more playoff series than they have in the past three years. But what is it? What’s the answer to my question? What’s different?
There are two reasons why I believe the Spurs are different and one of them is their key to winning a championship.
1) Offense. Offense. Offense.
The Spurs offense is magical. Near flawless execution, pinpoint passing, but it’s more than just plays. The Spurs’ offense is like a fine-tuned corporate factory. It has been tried and tested hundreds of thousands of times and after figuring out what parts it needed and the best way to do things it now spits out points as efficiently as possible. The NBA on TNT studio team calls it “surgical.”
Watching their offense spit out more and more points got me wondering: “Has this core of Tim, Manu, Tony and Greg Popovich always been this offensively talented? What I found on basketball-reference.com is enticing.
Ever since Greg Popovich’s first season as head coach in 1997-98 all the way through 2007-08, The Spurs were top three EVERY YEAR in points against per game AND defensive rating. In those years they were never higher than 12th in points per game and their highest offensive ratings were 7th,8th and 5th, their 03, 05 and 07 respective title teams.
Here is the layout of the Spurs in those categories from the beginning up the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili-Popovich era (2002-03) up until this year:
2002-03*: Pts./game – 12th; Off. Rating – 7th; Point against/game – 3rd; Def. Rating – 3rd
2003-04: 19th; 16th; 1st; 1st
2004-05*: 18th; 8th; 1st; 1st
2005-06: 21st; 10th; 2nd; 1st
2007-08: 28th; 15th; 3rd; 3rd
2008-09: 23rd; 13th; 2nd; 5th
2009-10: 15th; 9th; 8th; 8th
2010-11: 6th; 2nd; 14th; 11th
2011-12: 2nd; 1st; 16th; 10th
Notice something different?
After ten years of being top three in the league every single year in those two defensive categories and average in those offensive categories with the exception of their championship teams, the Spurs, in just four years, have seemingly flipped the coin.
Not only that, but it is also important to note that their highest offensive ratings were in their championship years.
…the Spurs have shifted their focus after three years of playoff mediocrity because their team couldn’t function defensively like it once had, either because of and increase in talent around them or a decrease of talent within them, or…
…it has simply taken this long for the Spurs big three to click like this and Greg Popovich, in ten years, has not only mastered the art of resting your guys down the stretch but also that of building an indestructible offense on the foundation of chemistry and familiarity between three all-stars. (That’s a big sentence)
My guess is it’s a combination of both.
Now here’s the problem. The Spurs offense was almost as good last year and they lost first round. Yeah, they had resting and injury problems and this year they’ve made some acquisition but I think the problem was deeper than that. I think I know what was bothering me. Which brings me reason number two.
In my 2011 NBA Playoff Preview I wrote, “Here’s the reality: The Spurs were always Tim Duncan’s team. Once he stopped being the best player in every playoff series, they stopped winning titles.” Suddenly, they’re looking like Duncan’s team again, and just like Duncan, they haven’t looked this good in five years.
The coin dropped. Yes. That’s it!
You know what I really, really hated about the Spurs the past three years? Tim Duncan was a role player. And when it came to playoff basketball, he was too much of a role player. I know he’s not an actual role player. What I mean is, for Tim Duncan, a future hall of famer, something just didn’t seem right when he wasn’t as vital to his team’s success. It’s nothing on Timmy. Timmy is already defying age, and putting up great numbers. I’m simply saying because of that lack of vitality something just didn’t seem right.
When Tim Duncan made the driving hook with a little less than three minutes to go last night I was like “Are you kidding me?” It wasn’t a top play or anything, it was just vintage Timmy. He was giving Blake Griffin clinics all series (literally) and they were feeding him the ball down the stretch to draw double teams. Griffin
Nothing spectacular happened this year in his regular season stats to show Tim Duncan was revitalized. In fact, other than last year, it was statistically one of his first seasons. He was, however, abnormally healthy and very well rested down the stretch and his numbers improved throughout the year.
The only stat I found that really popped out at me was this, again from basketball-refernce.com:
Win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player in 48 minutes. (League average is approximately .100.) Here are Tim Duncan’s percentages the past four playoffs:
2008 – 0.123
2009 – 0.171
2010 – 0.091
2011 – 0.051
This year: 0.272. His second highest ever., second only to his Finals MVP of 2003.
All of these amazing revelations plus throw in two great pick-ups in Stephenson and Diaw. a fantastic rookie in Kawhi Leanord along with other developing young players in the rotation like Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal and Danny Green and you, 2011-2012 San Antonio Spurs, have got yourself one big promise from yours truly.
I promise never to pick the Spurs to lose a series in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
That’s right. The Spurs are going win the NBA Championship.
About the Author
Written by Nick Jones
I am currently a full time college student preparing for life's next big step. Sports are one of my choice passions in life and I have always loved participating. However, during my latter years of high school, I was enlightened of two things about myself. The first was that I was far better at evaluating and analyzing sports than I was in performance on the field of play. The second was that I had a gift for writing. I have grown to love studying, analyzing and following sports. I'm from central IL so I love my Chicago teams. Favorite team is by far my Cubbies! Sports are just my side passion, I would be leaving out the best part of my life if I didn't say that I love Jesus with all of my heart. My whole life's all about Him!